Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out… “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. (Mk 6:7;11-12)
Christians are ambassadors of Christ and therefore envoys of reconciliation to God (2 Cor 5:20). All reconciliation to God comes about through contrition or man’s repentance. This is certainly why Jesus sent out his Apostles to preach repentance (the forgiveness of sins) to all the nations. Further, Jesus does not tolerate those who treat his ambassadors with discourtesy, obstinacy, or apathy. As noted in our quotation above from Sacred Scripture for this 15th Sunday in Ordinary time, Jesus expects that his messengers will be welcomed and listened too.
Of all messages that could ever be sent, be they between friends, enemies, nations etc. there is no greater message than that which comes from the mouth of God. God’s is an embassy due the utmost respect such that no living creature should dare take upon himself its prevention or disruption. Yet men and demons often do.
When Jesus instructs his Apostles to “shake the dust off” their feet in “testimony” to any place which does not welcome or listen to them, Jesus is instructing His Apostles to give proof of that place’s impurity and self-condemnation. In ancient Israel the Jews would shake the dust from their feet after leaving a land of the Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews. They would thus ritually cast off from their bodies any “residue” from that land of idolatry before passing over to their own land consecrated to the Lord God. Hence, when Jesus instructs his Apostles to shake the dust off their feet, He is commanding them to testify that such a place (city or town) has heard the Word of God but has freely chosen to reject it and to remain bound in the darkness of ignorance and sin. In refusing the gospel of repentance (Mk 1:15) that place (or just as much, that person) has chosen to remain a “gentile” – a captive of the fallen world who will not acknowledge his sins and the great mercy of God.
However, Jesus sends his Apostles to set the captives free (Lk 4:18). Thus we place on our bulletin cover this Sunday a painting from the Spanish Baroque painter, Jusepe de Ribera, entitled, Portrait of a Jesuit Missionary (1638). This oil-on-canvas in the later Tenebrist style was completed about one generation after the life of Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier and at exactly the time the French Jesuit St. Isaac Jogues made his first mission to North America amongst the Huron. Here we see an aged, yet stalwart, yet humble missionary standing upright in the faith. The lion painted by Ribera allows for many interpretations. He is Jesus the Lion of Judah; he is a symbol of the missionary’s courage in the Spirit; he is the natural pagan newly converted and eager for the faith shown by the intensity of his eyes and the baring of his claws (not shown here).
Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord (Ps 118:26). Blameworthy are those who mistreat the messengers of God and squander the message (Mk 12:1-9).
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services